Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Big Ten stock report, Week 3
By Brian Bennett
Welcome back to the one stock report you can read without having to worry about your 401(k). Here's our look at the bulls and bears of the Big Ten:
Russell Wilson rates as the second most efficient quarterback in the country through two games.
Passing efficiency: Four of the top 15 most efficient passers in the country reside in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's Russell Wilson ranks second, followed by Michigan's Denard Robinson at No. 7, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase at No. 8 and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins at No. 15. Wilson has completed 79.4 percent of his passes through two games, while Cousins has connected on 79.1 percent and Scheelhaase is at 71 percent. In addition, Northwestern's Kain Colter is completing a Persa-esque 73 percent of his throws.
Illinois' rushing attack: Losing Mikel Leshoure hasn't hurt the Illini ground game yet this season. Ron Zook's team is averaging 283 yards rushing per game, tops in the Big Ten and tied for eighth in the FBS. It's been a balanced attack, with Scheelhaase, Jason Ford, Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young all churning out at least 100 yards through two games.
Nebraska's special teams: The departure of Alex Henery has barely caused a ripple in Lincoln. Brett Maher leads the FBS in punting with a 51.3 yards-per-kick average, and he has made all four of his field-goal attempts. Freshman Ameer Abdullah ranks second nationally in kick returns and 13th in punt returns. He brought a kickoff back for a 100-yard score in last week's Fresno State game. Whoever came up with these preseason position rankings was clearly insane.
Ohio State's pass protection: The Buckeyes are one of 10 teams in the country that has yet to allow a sack. They have a veteran offensive line, even without Mike Adams, so that stat is not too surprising after two games against MAC opponents. This week's game at Miami will provide a sterner test.
Nick Toon and Junior Hemingway: Both receivers had big days on Saturday. Wisconsin's Toon had an off year last season as a junior but seems re-energized so far as a senior. He had seven catches for 69 yards and a touchdown last week against Oregon State. Michigan's Hemingway had a patch honoring Desmond Howard affixed to his No. 21 jersey before the Notre Dame game. He responded with a Howard-esque performance, catching three balls for 165 yards and a score.
Passing inefficiency: Not all the Big Ten quarterbacks are operating at high efficiency. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez ranks 84th nationally in passer efficiency and is completing just 48.8 percent of his passes. Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is 78th in efficiency and has a 52.3 completion percentage, while Purdue's Caleb TerBush is ranked 72nd and is completing 57.8 percent. Penn State's duo of Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin have combined to connect on just 40.7 percent of their throws, making the Nittany Lions the third-least efficient passing team in the country. And though Denard Robinson ranks high in efficiency because of his long throws and touchdowns, his completion rate is just 45.1 percent.
Illinois crowds: The Illini are off to a 2-0 start and have six more home games, but so far the fans haven't been clamoring to see them. They drew an announced crowd of 45,154 for the opener and just 42,212 last week. Memorial Stadium's official capacity is 60,670. The first two opponents -- Arkansas State and South Dakota State -- weren't exactly marquee draws. Let's see if Illinois fans respond better with a ranked team coming in this week in Arizona State.
Nebraska's defense: Did the Huskers leave the Blackshirts in the Big 12? So far, the defense we heard so much about hasn't been very special. Fresno State gashed Nebraska for 444 total yards, including 169 rushing yards by running back Robbie Rouse. The Cornhuskers didn't manage a single sack in that game. "I think every now and then you need to get smacked in the face and get a wake-up call," head coach Bo Pelini told reporters Monday. "When people are telling you how good you are, sometimes you need a reality check. In this world, you get humbled in a hurry. Last week we were humbled."
Iowa's pass rush: Perhaps a step back was to be expected from a defensive line that saw three starters from last year's team get drafted in April. Regardless, the line had a tough day in Ames last weekend. The Hawkeyes struggled to get pressure on Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz, and when they did, he was able to run away from them and keep plays alive. Iowa has only one sack in each of its first two games this season.
Kevin Wilson's fourth-down gambles: The Indiana coach has been aggressive early in his tenure, but it hasn't paid off the way he or the Hoosiers would like. With IU leading 17-14 and staring at a fourth-and-3 from the Ball State 9-yard line in the opener, Wilson decided to go for the touchdown instead of the easy field goal. Incomplete pass, Indiana eventually loses 27-20. Last week, down 23-10 to Virginia and at the Cavaliers' 8-yard line, Wilson called for the fake field goal on fourth down. Incomplete pass, Indiana eventually loses 34-31. If the calls work, Wilson looks like a genius. But they didn't. That's the nature of coaching.